Shards of a crummy summer ushered away through a memory left ajar

Austin American-Statesman, August 12, 2010

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It’s been a terrible summer. Wars. Millions of gallons of oil spewing into our beloved Gulf of Mexico. The United States getting knocked out of World Cup 2010 by two bad calls. Polarized government. And then the final blow: no invitation to Chelsea’s wedding.

I did the only sensible thing. I got back on anti-depressants, stopped reading and watching the news and began clearing out my e-mail inbox.

Before I toss it, I’m sharing with you this e-mail exchange with my son Burton, just in case your summer is going as miserably as mine.

You may know from reading my columns on downtown noise that as new empty-nesters, Ian and I downsized into a 1,550-sqare-foot loft in 2004. We had just moved out of our old place when I sent the following e-mail to our three grown children:


TO: Burton, Erin and John

FROM: Toni Inglis


DATE: Oct. 16, 2004

I’m rearranging my limited kitchen space and have several nice glass one-gallon jars with tasteful white plastic lids up for grabs.

Remember ’em? When several of you heathens were living with us, we stored flour, sugar, rice, cornmeal, etc., in them. Now, with only two of us, we need smaller containers. I know what you’re thinking — why doncha just pitch ’em?

Well, there’s a reason. We couldn’t find them anywhere in the ’70s, so even though it took several years, I begged them all off the Seton dietary people who were kind enough to save them for me. They had pickles and stuff in them, and it took forever to get the pickle smell out! But they’re the good, threaded jars.

As the metal lids failed over the years, I found nice white plastic lids for them at the Container Store. Glass one-gallon jars that properly seal are still hard to find, so if any of you want them, let me know. They’re airtight and great for storage.



TO: Toni Inglis

FROM: Burton Knight


DATE: Oct. 17, 2004

While I have struggled to live my life, as one of your children, as if there simply WERE NO JARS, I see now that I must address my heir-ship to the JARS immediately.

All my life I have truly struggled NOT to covet the spoils of maternal mortality. Yet I find myself unprepared for their being offered up so selflessly by you, not in death, but in the prime of peri-geriatric, empty-nest decadence.

Is this a noble goodbye from the far end of hospice soul-searching, or a stoic, Christ-like sacrifice? I could only wonder, if I weren’t fiendishly scheming for ways to eliminate my siblings. We both know how you loved me most — your firstborn.

When my wife read your missive, she finally confessed her longtime interest in the JARS with giddy anticipation. Yet I mustn’t let avarice take control.

The JARS, like your soul, cannot be possessed by one person. If only we could fragment the JARS, so that each person whose life you touched could enjoy a piece of your legacy, as it exists, so beautifully distilled into material treasure … the JARS!

Sadly, such an egalitarian paradise is a naive pipe dream at best. So, let us be frank. I am willing to offer you $100 per jar, or twice whatever either of my (unmarried!) siblings offers you. Surely you wouldn’t consider wasting such treasures on them! They wouldn’t know the first thing to do with a fine glass JAR.

I beg you, do not squander the fruits of your resourcefulness. I have mouths to feed! Maybe you would have your granddaughter eat cornmeal and brown sugar from Tupperware, [expletive] dammit!?

I’m sorry. It’s your decision. I know you’ll make the right one.

Your firstborn son,



I never heard back from the other two “kids” — siblings of Burton, as he points out, who were younger and unmarried. Burton got the jars. Free of charge.

Somehow I feel better now. Maybe I’ll start reading the news again — tomorrow morning.


Toni Inglis, MSN, RN CNS (retired), FAAN, a lifelong Austin resident, is a retired neonatal intensive care nurse and editor of NursingNews. She also wrote a monthly opinion column for the Austin American-Statesman editorial pages for 10 years.